Wednesday, April 08, 2020

I Am Judas - A Sermon for Wednesday in Holy Week

Anxiety is a common emotion amongst many of us. For many of us, in these days of pandemic it will come in waves. We might be enjoying the opportunity to read a chapter or two of a novel each day that we haven't ever quite got to, or to immerse ourselves in a film we have always loved, but perhaps like me, you find that soon after that, anxiety washes into our inner lives as sure as the ebbing tide.

The thing that makes that anxiety so insidious at the moment especially is that it ebbs into our lives as we spend enforced periods of time in the place that should be our security and safety - our homes.

Anxiety has ebbed even in to Jesus' life as he sits with his security and sureity - his friends and closest companions gathered around a table for food; and that anxiety is there, like a taut drumskin before Judas does what he has to.

Judas gets bad press in Christian tradition. We know little about him. Judas, his given surname could mean that he came from Kerioth a town in southern Judea. Iscariot could also come from a dagger - the sicarius - and it could be a nickname 'dagger man' referring to Judas perhaps belonging to a Jewish terrorist cell - the sicarii. Iscariot could also be a corruption of the aramic word for 'red' and Judas is sometimes portrayed in red clothing or with a red beard in Christian art.

We do not know why Judas betrayed Jesus. Some say it was because he loved money. John describes him as a thief. But to me the way scripture describes him in those sorts of terms feel like an addendum - a naming of the way that Christian tradition has treated him. Two of the Gospel writer ascribe Judas' motives due to diabolic or satanic action.

We find him offensive because of what he did to his friend Jesus--he handed him over into the hands of his enemies. We are offended by that for most of us can identify with the pain of being turned on by a friend. The wounds inflicted by a friend seem to go deeper and hurt more than the wounds inflicted by someone who cared nothing for us. David said in the 55th Psalm, "It was not my enemy who reproached me, for then I could bear it, but it was my friend." So we are offended by Judas because of what he did to his friend.

Judas not only offends us, but he also frightens us, for Judas is an unpleasant reminder to all of us that on any given day a faithful follower, like you or me, could turn from following Christ and stumble out into the night, caught up in the power of darkness and be quickly led to our death.

He frightens us even more when we try to put distance between ourselves and Judas by pointing out all that was wrong and rotten about him. We say Judas allowed himself to be used by that one who is opposed to the things of God, but have we not all at some point in our lives been used by that which is antithetical (totally opposing) to God? We all at some point in our lives have allowed ourselves to be taken over by evil schemes, harmful suggestions, misguided intentions and ruled and guided by other forces and powers.

We say Judas lacked honesty and integrity for he stole from the money box over which he had been placed. But have we not all done some things for which we are now ashamed?

We say Judas was small-minded and mean spirited, for he complained when the woman anointed the feet of Jesus with a costly bottle of perfume--but we all have to pray from time to time and ask the Lord to help us not to major in minor things; not to drown in shallow water; nor to lose our soul behind stuff that doesn't amount to anything.

Well we say he was duplicitous and deceitful. On the night of the Last Supper when the Lord tried so desperately to reach him, Judas resented correction and resisted reconciliation. He was stubborn; once he made up his mind you couldn't turn him from his course. In a moment of empathetic truth, we see so much of ourselves in Judas.

And so, for whatever reason, Judas decided to walk out on Jesus. He turned from the light, lost his way, and stumbled out into the night. What could entice a person to turn away from Christ?  Some people turn away from Jesus out of disillusionment. They thought that faith offered immediate rewards, with little sacrifice, at no cost.

Some turn away from Christ when confronted with some unexpected loss or horrific ordeal in their lives. And because they were caught off guard, they think Jesus was also caught off guard or does not care. They seem unaware of the fact that nothing takes our Saviour by surprise, and that Jesus cares for us when no one else does. In fact, he loved us before we loved him.

And then, as strange as it may seem, some people turn away from Christ because they say they want more out of life. They believe they have outgrown the faith. They believe other avenues and interests can speak to their condition better than the claims of Christ. 

John says when Judas walked out it was night. When John says it was night he is not simply calling our attention to the clock, he is calling our attention to the condition of any person's soul when they turn from Christ. When Judas, by his own choice, turned from Christ, he cast himself into the worst darkness.

Judas is me. Judas is you. We, and especially in times of great stress - where our jobs are not secure, or our relationships are strained, or sickness lies at our door as in these days - can all behave uncharacteristically selfishly for our own ends. Judas is us.

When we are Judas we need to be told another story. We need to live another narrative. Even in days of anxiety and in and through our actions and words which betray Jesus, God's glory is revealed. Now, says Jesus, in days and moments like these, are ones that sodden and heavy with the Divine Presence.

Victor Frankl, a survivor of Auschwitz, treated like a brute beast in the concentration camp, wrote about his refusal to accept this definition of himself by holding onto his belief in his humanity, his memories of being loved. He withheld his consent, refused to be an object, though he was unable to change what was happening to him.

We encounter Judas today in scripture, but each day in ourselves. This journey that Jesus willingly walked towards the cross is one that darkens as each step falls until it was night. But in the midst of the deepest darkness on the cross, the light and love of God could not be extinguished raised Jesus and reshapes our present and future renames us as much loved children of God.

The name Judas is the Greek version of the Hebrew name Judah, which means God is praised. When we find ourselves awash with anxiety or we betray ourselves of others, or that night is setting in, the light and love of God in Christ that cannot be extinguished still shines on and in and through us transforming our hearts and lives to be places - with Judas - where God is praised.

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